Wednesday, 28 April 2010



We arrived in Texas on March 31, just after the azaleas peaked, and left at the end of April . . . when the roses were blooming.

The yellow rose of Texas aside, I don’t really associate roses with Texas. But that’s my own bias, rooted in the fact that I didn’t really fall in love with them until I moved to England. Actually, there are plenty of roses in Texas – even if stereotypes are more likely to conjure up tumbleweeds.

One afternoon, when the children were at the Museum of Natural Science, I sort of “stumbled” upon the extensive rose gardens which flank the Houston Garden Center. (I was looking for a parking space, and the Garden Center is across the street from the Museum.) Surely, in more than ten years of living in Houston, I had managed to see the roses in bloom; but if I did, then I don’t recall it. Was I always too busy? Always driving around in my car, always pinned down to a schedule? In many ways, Houston is not a place where it is easy to stop and smell the roses.

Unlike the pastel multi-petalled English roses in my garden, these roses were bold and brash hybrid teas. These are not subtle roses; the blooms are huge, and the colours are vivid and richly saturated. One golden yellow rose was named Strike It Rich – appropriate for a state whose fortunes were transformed by the discovery of “black gold.” Houston is not really a subtle town. Hermann Park may be a green oasis in its center, but the city is ringed by miles of vast motorways and the cars are all huge. You can’t help but notice that the place is fiercely devoted to consumerism.  The first thing we do when we get to Houston is eat Mexican food.  The second thing?  Go shopping.

My annual trip to Texas is a touchstone for me. I reconnect to my Texas roots -- family and friends, tastes and twang.  Roses are different in Texas; I can't help wonder if I am, too.  A couple of years ago, I wrote about the many ways that “you can’t go home again,” and that remains true. Still, we try, and every visit is devoted to doing as many of the old things and visiting as many of the old places as possible.

At my parents’ house, in the country, there are certain rituals:  fishing, playing in the creek, having a cook-out in the fire circle, going for long cedar-scented walks, playing chicken foot dominoes and visiting the drive-thru Sonic for slushes. My children still love these rituals, and still insist on them . . . but for the first time, perhaps, my mother and I were aware of the shadow of change on the horizon. Even my youngest daughter, who loves to be outside – and enjoyed many happy hours creating a habitat for the turtle she fished out of  the creek – also spent hours checking in on Facebook. Growing up is the nature of things; but in some nostalgic way, I want our visits to Texas to always stay the same. Ironic, really, as Texas doesn’t stand still – not even for its homesick expatriates.

Two years ago, I wrote this:  Houston is always, always changing. As my friend Laura said, (borrowing from that genius Joni Mitchell), "they paved Paradise and put up a parking lot." If Houston is about anything, it is about the future. It is about constant construction and the need to widen yet another freeway. Every year, new places spring up while others are torn down. Yes, I know this happens everywhere . . . but in Houston it seems to happen in double-time.  In the past year or two, Upper Kirby, where I used to play tennis, has been turned into a block of high-rises.

Speaking of parking lots, one of my favourite haunts – the Buffalo Grille on Bissonnet – is being torn down because the new HEB grocery store wants to exercise their parking lot rights. (Houston is famous for its lack of zoning laws, but apparently there are a few caveats.) I have been eating pancakes and BLT sandwiches at the Buffalo Grille since I was a student at Rice University, and so have many other people – but no; apparently this beloved institution has to find a new place to live.

Another Houston institution which is closing its doors is the old Five and Dime Store in West University Village. I doubt that there are many Inner-Loopers who haven’t visited this venerable place, but there is no denying that some of its stock seemed to be as old and dusty as the store itself. It was a place that, in the words of Nanci Griffith, made a person want to fill up her suitcase with unnecessary plastic objects. The children and I took one last turn around those old checkerboard linoleum floors and couldn’t resist buying a few unnecessary things: a puzzle, some sewing elastic, a plastic pool toy and a wooden yo-yo – the really good old-fashioned kind. The place is still brimful of junk and treasures; apparently, when the store closes its doors in June, any left-over stock will be offered to the old dime store in Fredericksburg. At least in Texas, that store will be the very last of its kind.

Childhood can’t last forever, whether it’s your own – or your children’s. My oldest daughter’s friends have all started driving now and everyone is talking about college.

Maybe it is because we were there for nearly a month, unexpectedly grounded by the volcano in Iceland, but for the first time we left Texas without looking back. For the first time since we’ve been going back to Texas, I drove to the airport without the children crying and carrying on. My oldest daughter tuned the satellite radio to BBC’s Radio 1; she couldn’t wait to fly home and be reunited with her English friends.

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may. I keep telling myself that.


Sarah Laurence said...

Great to have you back to blogging, Bee! I thought the roses were from England at first. I love how you read the petals for cultural clues. If you are a rose, than you are one that transplants well and keeps blooming. I also wish my kids spent more time outside and offline. That’s why active outdoorsy vacations are best. I was so sad when our five and dime in town shut. This is a lovely, nostalgic post.

Dumdad said...

Fascinating post about growing up and going, growing away. It's all the more poignant for us expats.

I love all things English but I realise, after 16 years in Paris, that I might, just, miss living here if I were to return home. For the moment, I try to have the best of both worlds.

My children, French born and bred, are proud to be British (and have passports to prove it!)

We try to summer in Britain every year and they love various things English: full English breakfast, 99s, Marmite (ok, only my daughter)etc.

We're lucky we have two cultures to give to our kids.

JaneyV said...

So glad to have you back safe and sound Bee, especially when you kick off blogging again with such a great post.

I feel the same way when I go back to Ireland. It doesn't feel like home to me anymore because the landscape, attitudes and culture have changed so much. The home I remember is a snapshot of the 70s and 80s and of course so much of that has been torn down and rebuilt. I am often overwhelmed by a sense of displacement as I try in vain to fit in.

I am grateful for the interconnectivity of the world today because it allows me constant contact with family and friends from home. This way your not hit with the personal changes that have happened in the year since you'd last met.

rachel said...

A thought-provoking commentary on ex-patriate life, Bee, and how it changes everything. My brother and his young family moved to the States years ago, first to Georgia, then to Tyler, Texas (so many roses!), now in New Jersey. His sons worked so hard to assimilate and now can't relate to their Britishness at all. And my brother finds he's stuck now - with kids and grandkids "over there", he can't envisage ever coming back here again. That element certainly wasn't in the original plan.

Alyson (New England Living) said...

The west coast is very similar. Before Connecticut, we lived in Park City, UT. We went back to Utah for a visiti only a year and a half after moving here and things had already shifted and changed so much. The west is all about the future and making things "bigger" and "better". I believe this is why I prefer New England. They are committed to the past and preserving it. They discourage growth that comes too fast. Advertising signage and big box stores are discouraged and only allowed in a few areas. I love the stable feeling of this. Perhaps that is why you love England as well; it doesn't change as quickly as Houston.

Wonderful post! Glad you are home safe! xx

Nimble said...

I can almost smell the bloom in the last image. (Please tell me that some of the roses in the Houston garden were scented!) I'm glad you had a long visit.

Sometimes I think about the town where I went to high school and miss it. And then realize that it's changed quite a bit. Living there now would not be a rerun of '80-'90. Your descriptions of your girls changing interests makes me want to go hug mine. I noticed last night how long Katy's legs are. It snuck up on me.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Good to have you back!
I have remained in the city in which I grew up. In fact, we live in the same old neighborhood that my husband was born into. Talk about roots. We have worked zoning laws... to retain the character and charm of this particular neighborhood and I'm happy to say we appear to have succeeded here in our little corner. However, we went through a period where all the changes here in Atlanta were so dramatic, and so constant, that it really became quite depressing. I think we both sort of let go of our attachment to the place a bit. I also think that is one of the reasons we both are so drawn to Britain. We visit there and actually visit shops and restaurants that are owned and run by actual people, instead of faceless corporations, devoid of personality and therefore not really worthy of our loyalty. It is refreshing.

I think your children are incredibly fortunate to see both worlds.

Star said...

Oh Oh Oh, now you have me crying. You really do... I do so understand. I have followed your Blog for some time now and felt the longing for your homeland. I, the other way round, longed for the English gentle rain and the pastel roses. Nothing changes very fast in England. You can still see all the places which you were familiar with when a child and there is time to smell the roses and dream. Welcome back to England, dear Bee. You are very, very welcome. Let the Texan sun shine in your heart forever but bathe in the English rain and enjoy our paler sun when it shines.
My American husband is from Texas and he knows all the places you mentioned. We read your Blog today together. He is thinking about moving to England and much as I'd like him too, I don't know if it would be the best thing.
'Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns. I am thankful that thorns have roses.'
Alphonse Kerr
Blessings, Star

marja-leena said...

Wonderful post, full of double nostalgia with roots in two countries. It gave me a pang to realize that this is happening to our granddaughters, born here in Vancouver, but putting down roots in their father's country (UK) as well! It's wonderful to have two cultures, plus a little of that of us grandparents with roots in Europe. Yet there seems to always be a little of that longing for the "other" if family ties are still there.

slommler said...

Things in life change so quickly...especially with our children. As they get older...their needs and wants change the direction that we are journeying. It is subtle at first...then we turn around an everything has changed.
Love the roses! And your tour of Houston.

Nancy said...

Wow, what a great post. Considering I am returning to my home, after only six years, I can relate to this post. Maybe if I had stayed in one place during that time I would have felt the shift from the home I knew to the one I've made. Having young children helps you to become part of wherever you move, but lacking that, it is harder to blend in and become a part of a new community. We have friends that moved to Arizona that are trying to come back to Nevada. Same thing. Children grown and friends remain back where they moved from.

Elizabeth said...

How differently we react to be in our homecountry. You go down memorylane, visit all the old places and do all the things from the days. For me it is the time I can get my boys with me into a store, find them some new clothes without too much complaining. Furthermore I empty the grocery store for Dutch specialties. If I have done that, my mission is completed and I can go home to Denmark again.
Love the difference in our reaction. Makes me wonder.

Have a lovely day.

xoxo Elizabeth

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

Love this XOX

Kelly H-Y said...

What a lovely post ... your words "I was aware of the shadow of change on the horizon" really resonated with me.

kristina said...

So moving. And made me think about my own upcoming visit 'home'. Hope you're settling back in now and am looking forward to seeing you soon!

K x

Tracy Golightly-Garcia said...

Welcome back, Bee!

We have a five and dime called Wilson's and they have everything--I am in the store almost everyday.

Lovely pictures.

Tracy :)

Meri said...

What a great post! And it reminds me that when I was in law school eons ago, my property law profession was anti-zoning laws until he went to Houston and saw the light. Do you ever wonder if technology will change the face of friendship? Kids no longer seem to want to engage face-to-face when they can use a device.

Christina said...

so glad you arrived back, safely. it's beautiful how the roses help, tell your story. it's as though i can see the beautiful blooms, from here.

herhimnbryn said...

Thanks for sharing these thoughts about your trip home. I think we notice the changes to our environs more as we age.
We are off to the UK and Paris soon. I wonder what will have changed in the last few years?

Beth said...

A belated welcome back - and you did so with your usual flair and wonderful way with words.

Minx said...

Things change but your children will take all those lovely memories of dual culture on with them through life.

Marcheline said...

I just spent several days reading through a forum called the "South Brooklyn Network"... don't ask why... and even though I'm not from there, it struck me how all these people that grew up together remember the old days, the old pizza place, the school yard, and the crazy lady that lived over the Such 'N Such Bar... and everything has changed. All those kids that used to play kick the can after school are now in their 50's, remembering together (via the forum) how it used to be.

I'm not from Brooklyn, but it gave me a pang all the same.

Your post made me realize that people from communities all over the world must feel the same when they see their old haunts going under to new-fangled businesses that will become some young person's "remember when"...

Reya Mellicker said...

Chicken foot dominoes? I wonder what that is.

Nope. Houston is not subdued and would of course have big, brash roses. When a SF friend moved there, she said she didn't feel right going out to get the newspaper unless she was wearing lipstick and big earrings. What a funny place.

What does your husband think of Houston? Brits in America are often ill at ease, at least the ones I know.

I'm glad you got to see the blue bonnets, sorry you got stuck during the volcano, glad you're back to home sweet home. Great report! Thanks.

A Woman Of No Importance said...

Growing up is bitter-sweet, is it not?

Your sojourn in Texas appears to have been lovely, perhaps apart from the Icelandic volcano. How lucky you are, as wise, bold, Dumdad says, to have been able to offer your children such wonderful diversity in their experience and upbringing. I raise my glass to you, ma chere x

Kristen In London said...

I'm panicking a bit, Bee, about going "home" again on Monday... far from being an annual thing, it's been at least 7 years since I was "home" and the thought of living even for five days under my parents' roof is daunting. I love the idea of your children having rituals on their annual visit.

We all try to have "annual" things, though, we expats, don't we? For us, it's the annual summer "home" (another home, always another home) in Connecticut... building new rituals like my mother's birthday party in August.

But next week I'll be "home" where I lived for 18 years. Scared.

Relyn said...

I love that you have a yearly trip, full of ritual. I think it is so important for your children. I think you are creating a touchstone for them as well.